Gazette Offers Differing Views on PlanMaryland

As PlanMaryland enters its second draft stage, different opinions are emerging in the media regarding the State’s first land use plan.  As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Baltimore Sun editorial board has voiced its support for the Plan and dismissed county concerns.  Opinion Writers Blair Lee and Barry Rascovar each offered their viewpoints on PlanMaryland in August 26 opinion pieces in the Gazette.  Mr. Lee argues in support of keeping land use decisions at the local level while Mr. Rascovar, with some caveats, supports the land use structure proposed in the first PlanMaryland draft.

In Blair Lee’s article, he makes the case as to why land use decisions are best made at the local level and questions Governor O’Malley’s reliance on a 1974 law to enact PlanMaryland without legislative approval.  He also warns of the impact of the Plan on rural jurisdictions and discusses some of the unintended consequences of vesting land use decision-making with the State, noting that future Governors may have a very different view of the Plan than Governor Martin O’Malley.

Functions that traditionally belong to local governments include schools, police, zoning and land use. Why? Because local voters jealously guard their power to hold accountable and, if necessary, oust officials who mismanage these important parts of local life.

Inherent in this setup is the freedom of different counties to tailor their local government operations as they see fit. If the residents of Montgomery, Baltimore city or Wicomico disagree on taxes, liquor laws, school funding or growth rates, they are each free to go their own way. We call this local autonomy and local control.

But Gov. O’Malley now wants to relieve the locals of their zoning and land-use powers and transfer them to himself. From now on his administration, alone, will decide where, when and how much residential/commercial development takes place in each county. It’s an amazing power grab.  …

But it gets worse. O’Malley says he can do all this without legislative approval, because a 1974 law authorizes the governor to create a state growth plan.

Funny, none of O’Malley’s predecessors saw it that way. Every governor who wanted to limit local land-use powers — such as the 1984 “Critical Areas” Act or the 1997 “Smart Growth” Act — first relied on legislative approval. And when a 1988 gubernatorial commission recommended transferring local land-use powers to the state, the General Assembly killed it.

Mr. Rascovar offers a different opinion on the matter, agreeing that local governments are better equipped to make local land use decisions but arguing that the State should reward what it regards as good growth practices.  He also cautions that the growth assumptions underlying PlanMaryland should be reviewed in light of current conditions, the Plan should not take a “one size fits all approach” and the Governor should allow sufficient time for the Plan to be vetted, noting “[t]here’s no need to rush this process.”

Who knows what’s best for Frederick, Montgomery or Carroll County? A pointy-headed policy wonk burrowed in a state office building in Baltimore or a local official with intimate knowledge and understanding of a county’s quirks and characteristics?  …

Can you imagine state planning officials further complicating the many decisions tied to the National Harbor development or adding more complexity to the zoning and planning process for the proposed Science City in Gaithersburg?  …

Overcoming the fears of local leaders won’t be easy, particularly at a time when O’Malley also wants to outlaw new septic systems — a move that could have staggering negative implications for many of the state’s less-developed counties.

Still, it is sound policy for the state to tell counties that it will reward them for making sensible land-use decisions that keep population growth within designated areas already served by infrastructure. These counties will continue to get money for school construction, new roads and water and sewer systems.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Menu
%d bloggers like this: